Mirroring the growing divide in political discourse around the world is a growing divide within the church between ‘conservative’ and ‘progressive’ believers.
Both would claim to be trying to correctly express and live Christian faith, but it seems to me that ‘progressive’ believers see ‘correctly’ in terms of appropriate correction, adaptation and renovation, whilst ‘conservative’ believers see ‘correctly’ in terms of conservation, perseverance and restoration.
Politically, this (perhaps not always consistently?) tends to make ‘progressive’ believers have a more left-leaning approach, and ‘conservative’ believers have a more right-leaning approach.
If you can anticipate me saying that a ‘both/and’ approach is needed, that would be because that is precisely what I think is needed.
Just as the Gospel cannot ‘fit’ within the political ‘left’ or ‘right’, but instead affirms and challenges both, our understanding of the Gospel always needs both correction and conservation; adaptation and perseverance; renovation and restoration. Continuity and Discontinuity. New and Old. Faithfulness and Innovation. Word and Spirit.
The opposite of this ‘both/and’ approach is the posture that says “I am not like _____”. Two quick examples are a) the Pharisee (Luke 18:11) who was grateful to not be like the sinner, and b) the elite and presentable parts of the body who do not want to associate with the lowly and unpresentable parts.
In other words, we need one another more than we realise, and more than we are comfortable with.
This Christmas I sit in our living room before heading to bed, typing out a festive blog post. The room feels and looks very ordinary: couches, pillows, television, computer, DVD’s, books and more. Life, most of the time, is ordinary.
Life is exciting and varied enough as it is. We don’t need too many sensational experiences. Highs come. We are property owners for the first time, and are excitedly settling into our new home. Lows follow. My beloved Grandpa passed away the day after my son’s 9th birthday. Even those highs and lows have an ordinary feel to them. The joy of a new dwelling to own, enjoy and remake is tempered by frustrations of having too many things, facing the financial and time cost of renovations, and more. The grief of losing a loved one didn’t fully negate the happiness of waking up Christmas morning to presents and pancakes.
The nativity narratives are laced with the spectacular, and awe-inspiring and the miraculous. Angelic epiphany. Prophetic insight. Virginal conception. It could be just me and my phase of life, but I’m drawn to imagine the lingering ordinary feel that life would have had for Elizabeth, the shepherds, Anna, the wise men, Mary and the others. Elizabeth’s formerly-barren womb would still be subject to the pain of giving birth. The shepherds, hurrying to Bethlehem after the angelic revelation, would have faced all of the familiar and mundane issues of getting themselves there. Mary, despite her exemplary encounter with the angelic messenger, would have three full trimesters of watching her body and womb swell and transform.
And all of this has a beautifully Jesus-shaped dynamic to it. For it is in Him that the spectacular resides within the everyday. Eternity meets time. God joins with humanity. Creator with creation. Word becomes flesh.
Nowadays I am more aware than ever of my simple need for God’s extraordinary strength in every ordinary moment. Highs and lows; strengths and weaknesses; progress and stumbles, what I need is always to open myself to the ordinary process of participating with the Power who makes me just a little bit better, moment by moment.
Two brief (and certainly unoriginal) observations on John 1:1.
The Greek Text
εν αρχη ην ο λογος και ο λογος ην προς τον θεον και θεος ην ο λογος
A rough English equivalent
In the Beginning was the Word and the Word was toward the God and God was the Word
First, one must note the Parallelism of the first line of John’s Gospel with the first line of Genesis:
In the Beginning, God… (Genesis)
In the Beginning was the Word… (John)
This line in John is not only the precursor to the rest of what is a theological and literary masterpiece, but the author is deliberately paralleling (not ‘replacing’) God with ‘the Word’, a term used precisely 40 times in this Gospel.
Second, note the chiastic structure in the following two lines (obscured by most English translations that put God at the end of the sentence):
ο λογος the Word
…..ην προς …..was toward
……….τον θεον ……….the God
……….και θεος ……….and God
ο λογος the Word
You might suspect that a point is being made!